A new study by the New York Academy of Medicine shows that pregnant women in New York state have some of the highest death rates in the United States. The overall rate for New York was 16 deaths per 100,000 live births, while the city of New York fared even worse, with 23 deaths per 100,000. Minority women are more likely to die in childbirth due to lack of insurance, poverty and obesity (49% of deaths between 2001 and 2005 were obese patients).
Black women are the most likely to die as they, “are more likely to be obese, and they are more likely to be uninsured, and they are more likely to live in communities where the environment does not promote healthy decisions (domestic and sexual violence also contributed to maternal mortality, with Blacks and Latinos particularly vulnerable).” The study also showed that women with insurance, whether private or Medicaid, were far less likely to die than the uninsured, regardless of income.
While this study only seems to confirm the dangers and inequalities faced by poor and minority people, the somewhat shocking disparities between the haves and have-nots should serve as a wake-up call to those that think the problems of the “other America,” to steal a phrase from Michael Harrington, are inevitable and unsolvable. The fact that many of these women suffered from such poor basic nutrition and fitness shows that a large push towards healthier eating and more physical activity could help to prevent many of these deaths in the future.
While “food justice” is often talked about abstractly, from what I have seen in my own gentrifying Boston neighborhood where there is no grocery store and 10 pizza places in a three block radius, those that have access to good food tend to be thinner and healthier (not surprisingly these people, myself included, are affluent, exercise regularly and are white). This underscores the need for greater action and programs such as Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” childhood anti-obesity campaign, that focus on healthy habits.
Also, as the study shows that women with insurance, rich or poor, white or black or otherwise, are far less likely to die as a result of pregnancy, the need for quality medical care for everyone is extremely apparent. While perhaps the recently passed healthcare bill is far from perfect and way too generous to insurance and pharmaceutical interests, the mere fact that it does allow people to receive more and better care is without a doubt a step in the right direction. Indeed, this new plan, which also encourages personal responsibility and overall health, not just medical treatment, addresses many of the issues that contribute to the poor wellbeing of Americans across the socioeconomic spectrum, pregnant or otherwise, should serve as a foundation for sorely-needed future reform efforts.